STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, May 11 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Pauline Oliveros: “Pauline’s Solo” (Innova Recordings)
Pauline Oliveros, accordion

“Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening,” Pauline Oliveros said in her 1998 keynote address at the ArtSci98 symposium.

Twenty years later, those words have come to encapsulate the astonishing legacy left behind by the late composer, who passed away in 2016. An artist, accordionist, and pioneer of experimental and electronic art music, Oliveros is remembered for her revolutionary tape experiments, her poetic and aleatoric musical scores, her groundbreaking musical philosophies, and above all, her unwavering devotion to the exploration of sound.

“Pauline’s Solo” embodies that legacy. It is an intimate, improvised accordion solo that explores not melody so much as the music of sound—the clattering keys, wavering dissonances, swelling drones, and fluttering breaths of the instrument easing the listener into musical hypnosis. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 2pm hour today to hear this piece.


No Lands: “Icefisher” (New Amsterdam)
Michael Hammond, electronics

Michael Hammond’s recording project No Lands opens it’s album Negative Space with a confusingly-titled track. Despite being titled “Icefisher,” this piece brings a distinct sense of warmth. The slow, bendy chords are reminiscent of surf rock, while the heavy electronic static might be a sonic translation of the sensation of relaxing outdoors on an evening that is too hot. The end result? This track makes me want immediate access to a cold drink and a lawn chair. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece.


William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


György Ligeti: Lux Aeterna (EMI Records)
Groupe Vocal de France

It’s always fascinating for me to hear the atonal landscape of György Ligeti applied to vocal works—for me, it magnifies the majesty and magic that is a somewhat lesser characteristic of his instrumental compositions that I know and love. Lux Aeterna is a highly difficult work for 16-part mixed choir that uses constantly shifting rhythms and high notes for all vocal parts to create a floating, ethereal feeling. Stanley Kubrick was attracted to its celestial sound, using it in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Latin text comes from the Catholic Requiem Mass, and translates to:

“May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.”

 Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

Staff Picks: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, September 15 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

William Brittelle: Hieroglyphics Baby (New Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for some Friday night grooves, William Brittelle’s got the tune for you. “Hieroglyphics Baby” is a colorful art-pop-meets-classical mashup from his full-length, lip-synched (when live) concept album Mohair Time Warp. Tongue-in-cheek lyrics spiral through Technicolor melodies in this art music adventure that splashes through at least six musical genres in the span of three minutes. See if you can keep up. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Harry Partch: “The Wind” (Second Inversion Live Recording)
Charles Corey, Harmonic Canon II and Melia Watras, bass marimba 

Having the Harry Partch instrument collection in Seattle is a benefit that cannot be overstated.  I’ve attended many of their concerts at this point, and after every single one, I walk away feeling that my ears have been stretched in a pleasant and healthful manner.  I could call the experience “musical yoga” or “aural vegetables,” but no matter how I describe it, it seems clear to me that listening to Partch, in any form, is one of the best things one can do for their listening skills. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 4pm hour today to hear this piece, and watch our live video below!


Terry Riley: Fandango on the Heaven Ladder
Gloria Cheng, piano 
(Telarc Records) 

Terry Riley says of his Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, “It is no secret that I am wild about the music of Spain and Latin America, and since I heard my first fandango I’ve been wanting to write one. In Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, I am attempting to alternate and somewhat fuse the controlled sensuality of the romantic fandango with a somewhat melancholic chorale.”

The piece weaves in and out of fandango and melancholy, giving the impression of moving from solitude into a dreamlike soirée, only to slip back inward while stepping outside into a glassy night and hearing the sounds of the party flow out through the windows and doors. – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 7pm hour today to hear this piece.


Bruce Adolphe: Night Journey (Albany)
Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet

Any composer who sets out to write a really good wind quintet contends with inherent challenges of the instrumentation, chief among them the balance of sound between the high, light sound of the flute and the potentially low and overwhelming sound of the French horn. But they also have a beautiful, diverse palette of colors and textures open to them, and it seems to me that this 1986 work for winds makes use of these with aplomb. It’s a very enjoyable piece that moves in three main sections through bubbly counterpoint and quiet shades of repose.

Though the played-out “train chugging along through the night” concept seems to pop up incessantly in contemporary music for wind ensembles, I’m happy to give Adolphe a pass here since the piece was initially conceived with no specific inspiration in mind. The flickering colors and shifting mosaic of rhythm that characterize the music that opens and closes the piece seem to evoke a darkened nighttime landscape passing outside the window of a train, and thus the composer chose Night Journey for the title.
– Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, October 28 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

William Brittelle: High Done Know Why To (New Amsterdam Records)

a4015364653_16Whenever I need a random boost of energy, there’s a high likelihood I’ll reach for this track. From the get-go, the “HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH” and rhythmic vocal sounds send me into a goofy, bouncy side-to-side chair dance. From there, the smooth, gliding soprano vocals interspersed with pointillistic staccatos mingle with the forthcoming endless variety in the rest of the track. It’s just SO GOOD and totally pumps me up. (PS William Brittelle is a master  of quirk in his titles. Other favorites include “Hey Panda” “Them’s Lasers” and “Catwalk to the Multiplex.”) – Maggie Stapleton

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.


Timothy Johnson: debussy in abstract (self-released)

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A few years ago, composer and pianist Timothy Johnson asked the simple question “What if Debussy were a minimalist?” This piece is the answer he provided. This music contains the soothing sounds of Debussy, but has a strong flavor of the “furniture music” of Erik Satie.  This is music that will almost certainly improve your mood, even if you forget that it is happening. Push play on this track and let it transport you to a less anxious place. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.


Poppy Nogood: Music for Mourning: V. it’s cloudy outside (Preserved Sound)

coverThis ambient piece is the closing track of Poppy Nogood’s album Music For Mourning, which seeks to explore the phases of loss. In the movement “it’s cloudy outside” Nogood uses his piano as an emotional rake, collecting denial, anger, bargaining and depression into a tidy pile of gentle, foggy acceptance that unfurls inside your ears. Nogood has approached mourning with grace, tenderness, and, perhaps most importantly, tact. It’s beautiful. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: The Colorado

by Maggie Molloy

The Colorado River is a national treasure.download (31)

For the past 5 million years, the Colorado River has carved some of the most magnificent landscapes on Earth.

More than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply. The river supports a quarter million jobs and produces $26 billion in economic output each year from recreational activities alone.

But if the numbers alone don’t convince you, maybe the stories behind the river will.

VisionIntoArt teamed up with New Amsterdam Records to create The Colorado: a multimedia, music-based documentary that explores the Colorado River Basin from social and ecological perspectives across history. The project is conceived as equal parts eco-documentary film, live performance, and an educational tool for classrooms.

 

And just wait until you meet the team behind the music. For this one-of-a-kind album, the Grammy Award-winning contemporary vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth breathes life into compositions by Shara Nova, Paola Prestini, Glenn Kotche, William Brittelle, and John Luther Adams.

With color, charisma, tight harmonies, and striking shots of the river and its wildlife, the documentary presents the Colorado in all its majestic splendor—but it also tells a much bigger story.

Today, with a booming agricultural industry to support and nearly 40 million people dependent on its waters, the Colorado is overused, over-promised, and unable even to reach its delta. Add to that the impact of climate change on the region, and you begin to see why these are stories that truly need to be heard.

The Colorado explores vast terrain, both in terms of music and lyrical content. Lyrics by William Debuys navigate from the prehistoric settlements of the region to the current plight of the river’s delta, from the period of European exploration to the dam-building era and its legacy, from industrial agriculture and immigration to the inescapable impact of climate change.

As an additional educational component to the album and documentary, the team behind The Colorado is also in the midst of creating a full-length textbook, corresponding section by section to the film, which will allow students and audiences to explore these topics in greater depth. The goal is to create connections between art, ecology, and regional history while also educating audiences toward a better stewardship of resources.

thecolorado

The album begins—well, at the “Beginnings.” Composed by rock drummer Glenn Kotche (of Wilco), “Beginnings” sets the sonic scene of the prehistoric Colorado River through sparse instrumentation, evocative rhythms, and layered, wordless vocals. Almost ritualistic in nature, Roomful of Teeth’s voices evoke a deep spiritual connection to the river and its surroundings.

It’s followed by cross-cultural composer Paola Prestini’s “A Padre, A Horse, A Telescope.” Prestini, who is one of the co-founders of VisionIntoArt, takes a more Baroque-inspired choral approach. Setting Jesuit sources as the text for the piece (including a Hail Mary in Cochimí, an extinct Native American language), Prestini creates haunting counterpoint through echoing, intricately layered voices which speak to the religious symbolism of the river—both for Europeans and indigenous peoples.

The river’s relentless pulse comes alive in “An Unknown Distance Yet to Run,” written by composer, singer-songwriter, and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond). Through steady rhythms, restless strings, and chant-style vocals, she tells a gripping tale of exploration and adventure.

Composer William Brittelle folds elements of electro-pop into his two contributions on the album. “Shimmering Desert” features breathy, wordless vocals in a kaleidoscopic collage of electronics, radio clips, and strings, while “The Colossus” recalls the drama and dangerous working conditions of the Colorado River dams.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams’ contribution to the album requires a bit more patience. Unfolding slowly across layered, softly cascading vocal lines, he creates a vision of a vast, organic river landscape populated by nothing but the soft sounds of nature—in this case embodied ever so delicately by human voices.

Prestini’s narrative-driven “El Corrido de Joe R.” tells a more concrete story of love and sacrifice along the river. Roomful of Teeth sings above trickling water and birds chirping as they tell one family’s story—an anecdote of the interpersonal relationships between people and the land they live on.

It’s followed by another Nova piece, “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” a ghostly illustration of modern man’s massive (and dangerous) impact on the planet as we continue to abuse our resources and damage our world.

And yet, the album ends on a decidedly hopeful note: Kotche’s “Palette of a New Creation.” Roomful of Teeth paints an image of optimism through vividly colored harmonies and beautifully textured polyphony—a reminder of the meaningful change we can create when we lift our voices together.

Because together, through education, environmental activism, and effective stewardship of land and water, we can keep the Colorado flowing for generations to come. After all, there is 5 million years’ worth of music coursing through the Colorado River—for those who are willing to listen.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Unremembered by Sarah Kirkland Snider

by Maggie Molloy

sksnider unremembered

Childhood is a time of youthful innocence, joyous discovery, and wondrous possibility—but along with that unbridled and enchanting sense of imagination can also come dark creatures, mysterious horrors, and haunting memories.

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider braves these mystical terrors and takes on the full beauty and vast musical scope of childhood imagination in her latest release, “Unremembered.” The album is a 13-part song cycle, and each piece is its own narrative—a tender memory, a ghostly mystery, or a haunting message. Together, the cycle is a rumination on memory, innocence, imagination, and the strange and subtle horrors of growing up.

Composed for seven voices, chamber orchestra, and electronics, the songs were inspired by the poems and illustrations of writer and artist Nathaniel Bellows, a close friend of Snider. The poems depict poignant memories of Bellows’ own childhood upbringing in rural Massachusetts—tales which in turn triggered memories from Snider’s own childhood, giving shape to her musical settings of the text.

The album was released on New Amsterdam Records, a label Snider co-created with Judd Greenstein and William Brittelle in 2008 to promote classically-trained musicians who create outside the confines of the classical music tradition. The album features vocalists Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond), Padma Newsome (of Clogs), and singer-songwriter DM Stith gliding above the instrumental talents of musicians from contemporary ensembles like ACME, Alarm Will Sound, ICE, The Knights, and Sō Percussion.

A follow-up to Snider’s critically-acclaimed 2010 song cycle, “Penelope,” the new album lives somewhere in the mystical, mythical world between classical and pop genres. Each song is its own vividly colored vignette, a mesmerizing narrative brought to life through Snider’s rich textural and temperamental palette.

“I think that all of my music is narrative driven—that’s what I’m the most interested in musically—mood and storytelling and atmosphere,” Snider said in an interview with Molly Sheridan of NewMusicBox. “I’m fascinated by complex emotions—the places where affection crosses over and merges with dread, or regret merges with gratitude.”

From the ghostly echoes and somber lyricism of “Prelude” to the surreal dark carnival dance of “The Barn,” each piece tells a different tale of childhood; a memory embellished, ornamented, and altered over the years. In a way, Snider also embellishes memories of the classical genre—musically she recalls the strict rules and structures of the classical tradition, but she does so in a way that is blurred, broken, and beautifully contorted. Her collaboration with Worden helped breathe life into this eclectic collection of musical influences.

“Shara [Worden] had become my closest friend and we’d had so many conversations about classical versus pop music, and all of the frustrations that we had dealing with the lack of infrastructure to support music written in the cracks between those worlds,” Snider said in her interview with NewMusicBox. “She also just so comfortably can inhabit both worlds, which is something that so few singers can do, so I felt like I could really let it rip.”

Worden’s operatic voice drifts above the restless woodwind motives and dreamlike themes of “The Guest,” glides gracefully above the delicately swelling orchestral backdrop on “The Swan,” and echoes just as sweetly above the subtle, soft strings of “The Song.”

The album climaxes with “The Witch,” a ruthless and rhapsodic witch hunt played out across a programmatic musical arc. Worden’s low voice hisses against the aggressive strings and militant drums of the orchestra. She sings the ghostly tale of a witch hunt while the strings and percussion chase after her, brewing with melodrama and theatrical orchestral nuances. The piece ends with twinkling celeste motives as the haunting witch hunt fades back into a distant memory.

“The Slaughterhouse” is similarly grim, though it begins with a sweet reprieve: a gorgeous, achingly tender solo piano melody. The gentle rumination gives way to a somber tale of slaughtered animals, a collection of beasts buried beneath the winter ice—the cold memory and throbbing melodies sending shivers down the listener’s spine.
“The Girl” tells of a tragic small-town suicide—a girl hanged in an entire forest of musical timbres. Snider paints a vivid musical picture of the wind blowing through the trees, birds chirping in the early morning sky, and inquisitive animals peeking out behind woven beds of flowers. “The River” tells another solemn tale, with somber vocals flowing above fragmented melodies and a slowly rumbling bass.

The album comes to a close with “The Past,” a fractured montage of childhood memories echoing musical fragments from earlier songs in the cycle. But this time, the piece sounds hopeful—like a lullaby alive once again with the warmth and sweetness of childhood.

And just like that, the melancholy requiem of “Unremembered” evaporates into a softly twinkling silence, like an enchanting music box tenderly closing—and while the exact details of the memories may fade with time, the album itself is unforgettable.

ALBUM REVIEW: “Render” by Roomful of Teeth

by Maggie Molloy

a4015364653_10

Classical vocal music is always nice—but if you’re looking for a contemporary vocal ensemble with a little more bite, look no further than Roomful of Teeth.

The Grammy Award-winning a cappella ensemble is dedicated to exploring the vast and limitless musical possibilities of the human voice. In fact, Roomful of Teeth’s eight vocalists have studied singing traditions from around the world, including vocal techniques as diverse as yodeling, belting, Tuvan throat singing, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani music, Persian classical singing, and more.

And now, you can hear the fruit of the group’s musical travels on their sophomore album, “Render.” The record is an eclectic collection of original compositions and commissioned works which push beyond the boundaries of traditional vocal music.

Founded in 2009, Roomful of Teeth is comprised of sopranos Estelí Gomez and Martha Cluver, altos Caroline Shaw and Virginia Warnken, tenor Eric Dudley, baritone Avery Griffin, bass baritone Dashon Burton, and bass Cameron Beauchamp. Together, the eight singers create a mesmerizing vocal panorama spanning over four octaves.

Their new album begins with a performance of Missy Mazzoli’s “Vesper Sparrow,” an enchanting and otherworldly piece which features the text of Farnoosh Fathi’s poem “Home State.” The sopranos soar sweetly above a percussive a cappella backdrop, creating a fascinating range of vocal timbres and musical characters.

“The piece is an eclectic amalgamation of imaginary birdsong and my own interpretation of Sardinian overtone singing,” Mazzoli said. “I tried to capture the exuberance and energy of these individual singers as well as a bit of the magic that is created when this group comes together.”

The piece is followed by Wally Gunn’s “The Ascendant,” a dramatic three-part composition which illuminates the haunting, poignant poetry of Maria Zajkowski. Glorious vocal harmonies glide above a hypnotic hocket backdrop, creating a slow but steady groove and an unbelievably rich chordal texture—Roomful of Teeth’s voices will echo in your head long after the piece is over.

William Brittelle’s “High Done No Why” is next on the album, showcasing the vocal virtuosity of each member of the ensemble by experimenting with a colorful palette of extended vocal techniques that reach far beyond the borders of the Western classical music tradition.

Caleb Burhans’ slow and somber “Beneath” is a similarly virtuosic feat: it is a 12-minute exploration into the ensemble’s unbelievably wide vocal range. Throughout the piece, the spellbinding blend of wordless vocals creates an utterly ethereal, borderline eerie soundscape.

The ensemble switches to the other end of the musical spectrum for “Otherwise,” composed by the group’s artistic director Brad Wells. The piece is vibrant, visceral, and full of color—it features singing, belting, yodeling, and even a few elements of Sardinian polyphonic folk singing. Baritone soloist Dashon Burton cuts through the rest of ensemble’s rhythmic chanting with a beaming bel canto voice, his classical singing contrasting beautifully against a striking harmonic backdrop.

Eric Dudley’s “Suonare / To Sound” explores a different element of vocal music: words. The piece is a meditation on timbre and language, featuring the same poem sung in both English and Italian—at the same time. The eight voices overlap and intersect as they echo across a constantly shifting soundscape, with the lower voices tracing the English text through slowly changing harmonies as the sopranos echo far above them.

The last piece on the album is the title track, also composed by Brad Wells, which was inspired by David Eagleman’s short story “Search.” The ensemble’s voices ebb and flow in soft waves, gracefully gliding in and out of near-silence to create a serene and mystical sound world.

“The story describes a vision of the afterlife as the periodic unraveling of our material, molecular selves into other forms in nature, occasional re-gatherings of our disparate molecules over millennia, and the complete continuity and maintenance—in spite of the unraveling—of our consciousness and feeling,” Wells said.

Of course, Roomful of Teeth says all of this without using any lyrics—proving that the possibilities of the human voice are far beyond words.

 

ROOMFUL OF TEETH

by Maggie Stapleton

Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, cutting-edge vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth‘s stated mission is to “mine the expressive potential of the human voice,” and that they do.  They’re extremely versatile, excelling in styles ranging from renaissance polyphony to vocal techniques from around the world, such as yodels, grunts, audible exhalations, and drones, all heard on their self-titled debut album (which, by the way, won the 2014 Grammy for “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance”).

Roomful Of Teeth

Roomful of Teeth is dedicated to new music and composers of today, they’ve commissioned works by Rinde Eckert, Judd Greenstein, Caleb Burhans, Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs), Sarah Kirkland Snider and Missy Mazzoli, and William Brittelle, who says his melodic sensibility tends more toward the pop side than classical or experimental side, resulting in some very fun music.

Roomful of Teeth was the first all vocal program presented by TownMusic in September 2013. We have some selections from this concert for your listening pleasure, including a couple of movements from Caroline Shaw’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning piece, Partita for 8 voices!

There’s one more concert on the 2013-14 TownMusic Series on June 24, featuring four world premieres and soprano Mary Mackenzie to sing Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.